The Sunshine HotelAUG 20

Two weeks ago, 99% Invisible broadcast an audio documentary from 1998 about one of the last remaining flophouses on The Bowery in NYC called The Sunshine Hotel. It is an amazing time capsule from a Manhattan that just doesn't exist anymore.

The Sunshine Hotel opened in 1922. Rooms -- or really, cubicles -- were 10 cents a night. The Sunshine, like other flop houses, was always a men-only establishment. In 1998, the hotel had raised it's rates to 10 dollars a night and it was managed by resident Nathan Smith. He sat behind a metal cage at the front desk, answering the phone and doling out toilet paper to residents for 35 cents. Smith had once worked in a bank until he was injured, and then fired. His wife left him and he ended up in the Bowery, and eventually at the Sunshine Hotel.

The interviewees sound like they're characters in a play, not real people. It's so good. There is also a documentary film released in 2001 about The Sunshine Hotel which is available on Amazon Instant; here's a trailer:

NASA's logo: the worm vs. the meatballAUG 20

NASA's original logo looked something like this:

Nasa Meatball Logo

It was referred to, colloquially, as the meatball. In the 1970s, the meatball was switched out for the worm, a more Modernist take:

NASA Worm Logo

This logo was done by Richard Danne and Bruce Blackburn, and Danne wrote an essay about the experience.

And here is one of the most interesting exchanges I've ever witnessed in a design presentation:

Fletcher: "I'm simply not comfortable with those letters, something is missing."
Low: "Well yes, the cross stroke is gone from the letter A."
Fletcher: "Yes, and that bothers me."
Low: "Why?"
Fletcher: (long pause) "I just don't feel we are getting our money's worth!"

Others, not just the designers were stunned by this last comment. Then the discussion moved back to the strong red/rust color we were proposing. We had tried many other colors of course, including the more predictable blue range, but settled on red because it suggested action and animation. It seemed in spirit with the Can Do nature of the Space Agency.

Fletcher: And this color, red, it doesn't make much sense to me."
Low: "What would be better?"
Fletcher: "Blue makes more sense... Space is blue."
Low: "No Dr. Fletcher, Space is black!"

NASA's Graphics Standards Menu utilizing the worm logo can be seen here.

Nasa Design Manual

The space agency switched back to the original logo in 1992. Michael Bierut compared the two:

The worm is a great-looking word mark and looked fantastic on the spacecraft. By any objective measure, the worm was and is absolutely appropriate, and the meatball was and is an amateurish mess.

(thx, jarrett)

How to live the good lifeAUG 20

Matt Might, who is a professor in computer science at the University of Utah and a professor at the Harvard Medical School, responded to a question on Quora about minimizing the chances of having a disabled child and ended up answering two seemingly unrelated questions as well: How do you get tenure? and How do you live the good life? Long story short: he got tenure and started living the good life because he had a disabled child. But you should read the long story; it's worth it.

My son forced me to systematically examine what matters in life -- what really matters -- and in the end, I came to appreciate a quote from his namesake, Bertrand Russell, more than I could have ever imagined:

"The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge."

My first year as a tenure-track professor cannot be described as anything other than an abject failure. I was so desperate to publish and raise funds that I began thin-slicing my research and submitting lots of poor quality papers and grant proposals.

I must have had a dozen rejections in a row that year. It sucked.

I remember huddling on the porch at the end of that year with my wife, telling her, "Well, I'll at least have a job for six more years."

I looked at my young son, cuddled in her arms. I saw his very existence hung in the balance between knowledge and ignorance.

Then it hit me: Life is too precious and too fleeting to waste my time on bullshit like tenure. I didn't become a professor to get tenure. I became a professor to make the world better through science. From this day forward, I will spend my time on problems and solutions that will matter. I will make a difference.

I stopped working on problems for the sole purpose of notching up a publication. I shifted gears to cybersecurity. I found a project on cancer in the med school. I joined a project in chemical engineering using super-computing to fight global warming.

Suddenly, my papers started getting accepted.

You may remember Might and his son from a recent New Yorker article on people with ultra-rare diseases.

The Jefferson GridAUG 19

The Jefferson Grid is an Instagram account which posts satellite photos picturing one square mile of land.

Jefferson Grid

Jefferson Grid

Jefferson Grid

The account takes its name from the grid Thomas Jefferson used to divide up the growing United States.

The Land Ordinance of 1785, drafted by Thomas Jefferson, extended government authority over the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes regions. As a response to what he believed to be a confusing survey system already in use, Jefferson suggested a new grid system based on the rectangle. The grid divided land into plots one mile square, each consisting of 640 acres. The grid also placed a visible design upon a relatively untouched landscape. The ordinance was the first of its kind in America but would continue to affect urban, suburban and farmland planning to present day.

(via @bldgblog)

Supermassive black holes are *really* massiveAUG 19

How massive are they? The Sun is 1 solar mass and as wide as 109 Earths. Sagittarius A, the black hole at the center of the Milky Way, weighs 4.3 million solar masses and is as wide as Mercury is far from the Sun. The black hole at the center of the Phoenix Cluster is one of the largest known black holes in the Universe; it's 73 billion miles across, which is 19 times larger than our entire solar system (from the Sun to Pluto). As for how much it weighs, check this out:

I also like that if you made the Earth into a black hole, it would be the size of a peanut. (thx, reidar)

Project SunroofAUG 18

Google's latest project is called Project Sunroof. Sunroof utilizes Google Earth data to estimate the solar energy potential of buildings.

Enter Project Sunroof, my recent 20% project. Project Sunroof is a new online tool we're testing to help homeowners explore whether they should go solar. Available in the San Francisco Bay Area, Fresno (in central California), and the Boston area for now, the tool uses high-resolution aerial mapping (the same used by Google Earth) to help you calculate your roof's solar energy potential, without having to climb up any ladders.

If you're in one of our test regions, simply enter your address and Project Sunroof will crunch the numbers. It first figures out how much sunlight hits your rooftop throughout the year, taking into account factors like roof orientation, shade from trees and nearby buildings, and local weather patterns. You can also enter your typical electric bill amount to customize the results. The tool then combines all this information to estimate the amount you could potentially save with solar panels, and it can help connect you with local solar providers.

Google still has 20% time?

NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of NeurodiversityAUG 18

Neurotribes

Added to the series of things I thought I posted about but never did is Steve Silberman's new book, NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, out next week.

What is autism? A lifelong disability, or a naturally occurring form of cognitive difference akin to certain forms of genius? In truth, it is all of these things and more-and the future of our society depends on our understanding it. WIRED reporter Steve Silberman unearths the secret history of autism, long suppressed by the same clinicians who became famous for discovering it, and finds surprising answers to the crucial question of why the number of diagnoses has soared in recent years.

Jennifer Senior wrote a largely positive review for the NY Times.

"NeuroTribes" is beautifully told, humanizing, important. It has earned its enthusiastic foreword from Oliver Sacks; it has found its place on the shelf next to "Far From the Tree," Andrew Solomon's landmark appreciation of neurological differences. At its heart is a plea for the world to make accommodations for those with autism, not the other way around, and for researchers and the public alike to focus on getting them the services they need. They are, to use Temple Grandin's words, "different, not less." Better yet, indispensable: inseparably tied to innovation, showing us there are other ways to think and work and live.

Han Solo frozen in carbonite beach towelAUG 18

Han Solo Beach Towel

This beach towel featuring Han Solo frozen in carbonite is the only Star Wars merch I want in my life. (thx, meg)

Update: Ok, I had forgotten about the Han Solo frozen in carbonite ice cube tray, which is slightly more awesome. (via @ajsheets)

Infinite model train vortexAUG 18

I can't decide if this video of an ouroboros model train is soothing, menacing, or just kinda boring.

Wait for the Law & Order-esque twist at the 2:00 mark. chung chung

The Problem We All Live WithAUG 17

Oh man, this episode of This American Life on desegregation and the Normandy School District (aka the Missouri district that Michael Brown attended) just totally wrecked me. Tears of sadness and rage.

Right now, all sorts of people are trying to rethink and reinvent education, to get poor minority kids performing as well as white kids. But there's one thing nobody tries anymore, despite lots of evidence that it works: desegregation. Nikole Hannah-Jones looks at a district that, not long ago, accidentally launched a desegregation program.

America likes to pride itself on its focus on the importance of education and everyone getting a crack at living the American Dream, but as this story makes clear, neither of those things are actually true. See also part two of the series and Hannah-Jones' series on segregation at ProPublica.

"Pixar is bulletproof, assholes"AUG 17

John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer of Pixar, writing in The Onion: I've Got You Dumb Motherfuckers Eating Right Out Of My Hand.

Yes, after the success of our first few movies we had a hunch you'd continue to enjoy the wonderfully designed animation and our smart, lyrical writing, but I didn't think we'd create a horde of drooling morons ready to drop everything just to watch a fucking rat cook dinner. Time and time again, though, there you chumps are, lined up around the block with your stupid little kids, eager to have your stupid little hearts filled with whimsy.

See also Disney's Lasseter: Woody will find love in 'Toy Story 4'.

The thousands of bombs exploded on EarthAUG 17

From Orbital Mechanics, a visualization of the 2153 nuclear weapons exploded on Earth since 1945.

2153! I had no idea there had been that much testing. According to Wikipedia, the number is 2119 tests, with most of those coming from the US (1032) and the USSR (727). The largest device ever detonated was Tsar Bomba, a 50-megaton hydrogen bomb set off in the atmosphere above an island in the Barents Sea in 1961. Tsar Bomba had more than three times the yield of the largest bomb tested by the US. The result was spectacular.

The fireball reached nearly as high as the altitude of the release plane and was visible at almost 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) away from where it ascended. The subsequent mushroom cloud was about 64 kilometres (40 mi) high (over seven times the height of Mount Everest), which meant that the cloud was above the stratosphere and well inside the mesosphere when it peaked. The cap of the mushroom cloud had a peak width of 95 kilometres (59 mi) and its base was 40 kilometres (25 mi) wide.

All buildings in the village of Severny (both wooden and brick), located 55 kilometres (34 mi) from ground zero within the Sukhoy Nos test range, were destroyed. In districts hundreds of kilometers from ground zero wooden houses were destroyed, stone ones lost their roofs, windows and doors; and radio communications were interrupted for almost one hour. One participant in the test saw a bright flash through dark goggles and felt the effects of a thermal pulse even at a distance of 270 kilometres (170 mi). The heat from the explosion could have caused third-degree burns 100 km (62 mi) away from ground zero. A shock wave was observed in the air at Dikson settlement 700 kilometres (430 mi) away; windowpanes were partially broken to distances of 900 kilometres (560 mi). Atmospheric focusing caused blast damage at even greater distances, breaking windows in Norway and Finland. The seismic shock created by the detonation was measurable even on its third passage around the Earth.

The Soviets did not give a fuck, man...what are a few thousand destroyed homes compared to scaring the shit out of the capitalist Amerikanskis with a comically large explosion? Speaking of bonkers Communist dictatorships, the last nuclear test conducted on Earth was in 2013, by North Korea.

What it's like getting your sense of smell back after five yearsAUG 17

Earlier in the month, I wrote about a man who lost his sense of smell.

Over lunch, he says: "I joke I can't smell my daughter's diaper. But I can't smell my daughter. She was up at 4 o'clock this morning. I was holding her, we were laying in bed. I know what my son smelt like as a little baby, as a young kid. Sometimes not so good, but he still had that great little kid smell to him. With her, I've never experienced that."

Jason Caplin lost his sense of smell suddenly five years ago, but recently regained that ability. It has not been the fantastic experience you might expect.

And so to tonight. Here it is, then. Smell at full blast. The inside of my head is basically completely uncalibrated. My nose just has no idea what to do with this rediscovered fury of data. Walking to the tube, I tentatively tried breathing in through my nose. Once. I felt alarm bells going off at the back; smells that had no place together (and which I could only vaguely recall in name) set my eyes watering and made me gag. I sneezed, a lot. At the big roundabout I could smell mint, horses, an outdoor pool from a family holiday when I was eight. The supermarket smelt of hair, even though I don't think I could tell you what hair smells like, and it set me wondering how much of this my brain was reconstructing on the fly. The tube was almost unbearable and I blinked to stop crying.

That happened back in May...I hope things have settled down for him. (via gyford)

Roadtripping man annoys his sister with seven hours of lip syncingAUG 14

This is an epic display of top-notch lip syncing and world-class shade throwing. I smiled the whole way through this.

Songs performed include Wannabe by The Spice Girls, The Sign by Ace of Base, Thong Song by Sisqo, and Orinoco Flow by Enya.

Update: A playlist of the songs sung in the video are now available on Rdio and Apple Music.

(via @jemaleddin & @murtaugh)

Slacklining 1000 feet in the air without safety ropesAUG 14

Are your palms dry? Do you wish they were soaked with sweat right now? Then you should definitely watch Spencer Seabrooke walk on a slack line across a 210-foot gap almost 1000 feet in the air without any ropes or safety harnesses.

I mean, Jesus. (via devour)

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